Though he spoke nothing but Spanish, he insisted he was Italian. In all the years he worked for us I never saw him wear anything but twill workman’s coveralls and boots, the soiled black Basque beret as much a part of his head as his nose. Señor Palomino was never addressed by his first name and seldom spoke unless the subject was the garden.
“He knows all there is to know about plants,” said Grandmother. “I just wish he didn’t drink so much.”
“Have you ever actually seen him drinking?” asked Uncle Eddie. “I’m not arguing, Mother. I just was wondering.”
She admitted she hadn’t, but I had. At stated intervals he would pause in his work, lean his rake on the wall, walk to the tool shed, cast a glance around. If the coast was clear, he would step in and take a wine bottle from the high shelf and pour it into a jelly jar kept for the purpose. He would drink it off, wipe his mouth, fetch up a clipper or a trowel and walk out. This way Señor Palomino was never quite drunk, nor ever wholly sober. He worked in twilight.
At his funeral some years later, I learned he had been in the war.
Sunday Photo Fiction
I met Mom and her new husband at the Top of the Mark. We looked out on the city and drank fifteen dollar cocktails while she went over her plan. She had brought maps, guidebooks, old photographs. The husband said nothing, but I could tell from his Rolex that he was the one paying for it.
“Why?” I asked her when she was finished.
“You remember how I came to be in the United States.” she said. “I was visiting my uncle when Japan attacked Hawaii. We spent three years in the internment camp. I wasn’t able to return to my country for almost ten years, and by that time everything had changed. By then I was mostly American, and my surviving Japanese relatives had never heard of me. As I’ve gotten older, it’s become important that I see where my father died. That’s why I’m going. Why I must go.”
What Pegman Saw
Note: during the brutal war in the Pacific, the Japanese almost never surrendered. Their cultural and military training forbid it, so most of them either died fighting or committed suicide to avoid capture. Where Americans back home would get telegrams informing them of their sons’ or husbands’ deaths, the Japanese soldiers and sailors simply disappeared into thin air. No bodies were identified or returned home for burial. To their families back home, these 1.3 million men simply ceased to exist.
The Battle of Peleliu took place in September and October, 1944 and was one of the most brutal and violent campaigns of the war. Survivor Eugene Sledge, a mortarman with the First Marine Division, said that it was “like two scorpions in a bottle. One was annihilated, the other nearly so.”
Mother’s mediocrity was so consistently applied that it almost became a kind of excellence.
She wasn’t especially bad at anything. Nor was she particularly good.
In everything she did, Mother was merely adequate.
The many dinners she cooked for us excited no praise, yet were always eaten without complaint. When she gave gifts, they were accepted but rarely used by the recipient. Sweaters unworn, books unread. Her house was mildly comfortable, its smells neither offensive nor pleasant.
Even her conversation was mediocre. Mother was never interesting nor boring. She would deprive her friends of solitude, yet not provide them any company.
The bar at the Craic is busy most Friday evenings, but when Waitangi Day falls on the weekend it borders on insane, twenty-four hours of partying. We haul cases of the extra glassware out from the cellar and triple the liquor order. I’d been working straight up since seven AM and was desperate to have a piss. Ciaran, the head barman, was standing at the urinal when I went in.
“Just be a second, mate,” he said.
He stepped away, zipping up as he headed for the door.
“Not going to wash your hands?” I asked.
He gave me a look. “Listen, mate. I’m spending my hours picking up strangers’ dirty glassware. God only knows what these people got in their mouths. But this,” he said, pointing to his crotch, “this has been right here since I took a shower this morning. I should wash my hands before touching it!”
What Pegman Saw
Her hands shook as she fumbled out her keys, the pizza box wedged between her arm and the doorframe. Once inside, she set down the box, and locked the deadbolt and chain, checked the windows.
She grabbed the leftover wine she’d brought home from Saturday’s disastrous blind date and drank straight from the bottle.
She opened the box and ate a slice, still warm.
She’d been paying for her pizza when a man came in, stuck a gun into the cashier’s face and shot her, then ran out.
She’d just stupidly stood there, then picked up her pizza and left.
The waiting room was much more grand than it had been five years ago. The mayor seemed to take decorating tips from our show. We’d been waiting forty-five minutes before the secretary reappeared.
“I am so sorry,” she said, her smile thin below eyes that did not smile at all. “His excellency has had an unexpectedly busy morning.”
“We had an appointment,” said Chas. I could see how angry he was by the way he held his voice in perfect control.
“Of course,” she said. “It shouldn’t be much longer.” She disappeared through a door.
“That son of a bitch,” said Chas. “Do you know how much tourism was here before we started filming? Zero. Zilch. Nada. And now he has the gall–”
“Easy, Chas,” said Laticia, laying a soothing hand on his arm. “He’ll issue the permits. He always has.”
I wondered how much more he’d charge this time.
What Pegman Saw
“What is it supposed to be?” he asked.
I could see the disappointment on his face.
I felt the old fury rising. My selfish son.
I struggled to keep my voice calm.
“It’s a bicycle, John.”
“It looks weird. The wheels don’t turn. And what’s with the seat?”
“It’s a work of art. Your aunt created it. She left it to you in her will.”
“I never even met her.”
“She wanted you to have it. She was famous, you know. Your aunt.”
His eyes took on a different cast.
He picked up the sculpture, studying it for a signature.
DOVER JANUARY 16- Wire Service Report
Three bodies were found at the foot of Langdon Cliffs near Dover on New Year’s Day.
Kent Police said the unnamed siblings, believed to be 59, were from the Cheshire area.
Their deaths are not thought to be connected to the third person, a 45-year-old man from the Greater Manchester area.
None of the deaths are being treated as suspicious.
According to Detective Sergeant Stuart Ward, The twins were in London on 22 December. “We can place them in Dover on Boxing Day, but we are keen to establish if they were staying locally,” said Ward.
“We have already contacted local hotels but are now asking owners of guest houses, bed and breakfasts and pubs to contact us if they had a man and woman in their late 50s from Cheshire staying over the Christmas and New Year period.”
Teams from Dover RNLI and UK Coastguard were dispatched at around 2:30pm after concerns were raised about the well-being of a man seen at the picturesque spot.
During this search the bodies of the two siblings were also found.
The man’s body was winched up by helicopter while the brother and sister were reached by teams from the shore.
Sunday Photo Fiction
“Something wrong with the proto-cakes, Michael?” asked June. “You’ve barely touched them.”
“I guess I’m too excited, Mommy.”
“Well,” she said, smiling. “Even Uninauts need to eat.” She pressed the button for housekeeping. An electric door snicked open and a slim silver android glided out. “See that Michael finishes his breakfast,” she told the robot.
“Compliance,” it replied.
June walked through the house, pausing in the common room to look through the great curved window onto the vast network of canyons beneath the pale Martian sky. It looked like the Texas of her great-great-grandfather’s day. Pioneers then, pioneers now.
“Are we ready?” said her husband. He held the gleaming sphere of his deep-space helmet, much larger than the one he used for commuting. “The rocket for Earth leaves in two hours. We should get there early.”
“Oh Ward,” she said. “Who’d have thought a beach vacation could be so exciting?”
What Pegman Saw
This story invokes time travel, but backward to the 1950s. The postwar era gave rise to a booming industry of pulp paperbacks and science fiction magazines that promised a futuristic utopia filled with rocket cars and domed cities. It all seems impossibly quaint now.
I was born in the 1960s, so the science fiction of my era promised a dystopian cyberpunk nightmare of corporate greed, pollution and hyperbolic public figures who committed insanely evil acts.
I guess we know which one came true, but I still love the era that gave us Heinlein, Asimov, Bradbury and some of the coolest illustrations ever.
She gets out the car, phone in her hand. Her brother is waiting for her on the jetty, his tie askew. She points at it.
“Aren’t you going to take that off now? The lawyer didn’t come.”
He smiles, tugs the tie around like noose, sticks his tongue out.
“Grim,” she smiles, turning back to her phone. “Google maps says slip F-18. No idea what that means.”
“It means our dear departed daddy also had a boat. In addition to the mistress, the second house and God knows what else.”
“You think you know a person.”
“Nobody knew our father.”